The trip from Puyo to the Morona property takes about 27 hours, with two river crossings, if all of the bus and ferry connections are made efficiently. The first of the two river crossings is done on foot and the Pastaza River and is the boundary between the provinces of Pastaza and Morona Santiago. There is an old narrow bridge just wide and strong enough for a small pickup to haul passengers belonging across as they walk behind. A bus from the same company has dropped off its passengers and the two groups meet somewhere in mid-span on the bridge. The second crossing is the Morona River and it is done, bus and all, on a small barge just long enough to hold the bus and the passengers.
The frontier town of Macas is just across the Morona River and the road into town is newly paved with asphalt and is quite a contrast with the road on the river. From Macas the road goes to Secua and then splits, one way goes up into the Andes and to Quenca and the other goes seventeen hours southeast into the Amazon and ends at the village of Puerto de San Jose, near the border with Peru. Near this sleepy little community is the Congaimi River and the boat dock that serves as the next jump off point for travel into and out of the rainforest. On this trip I am traveling with a young Shuar man, German, and we'll be in his village, Panintz, in a few days. My other friend is Teresa Shiki, also a Shuar, an ethno-botanist, herbal healer and President of Fundacion Omaere, in Puyo. Our destination is a section of primary rainforest, an hour boat ride up-river that we have purchased and established as an eco-reserve.
After visiting the property we will go to Panintz, Herman's village some five hours upriver to collect plants, seeds and roots for Teresa's botanical park. This is the gateway to some of the last pristine rainforest in Ecuador and Peru . As the sun comes up a boat full of Achuar people sets out on the six hour journey that will take them north and then east into their territory. Our boat quickly filled up with Shuar people and their supplies and soon we were making our way up-river.
This is also habitat for the rare white river dolphin and one breaches a distance from the boat and disappears, they don't like the sound of the boat motor, but will let a canoe get very close. One will encounter the river dolphin more and more often as they go up-river. The Congaimi is a low gradient river, called a brown water river, because of the fine colloidal and clay particles suspended in its water column. Many of these low areas have been cleared for the timber, pasture, or fish ponds and have lost their habitat value. Increased dependence upon money has forced locals to change their relationship to the forest. As habitat shrinks animals are easier to hunt and they have to move to keep up with the receding forest. This area would be very dense to hunt with plenty of hiding space for the animals. Having a reserve will provide a nursery for many of the forest creatures, as well as provide study and enjoyment for visitors.
The reserve property is on right and meanders with the river channel. The property is a combination of many habitat and vegetation types and it will take weeks to explore. On my next trip I will take a GPS unit to begin the mapping of key features of the reserve.
Temporarily flooded forest and is critical habitat for many river species. During periods of high water the forest floor is covered by 3 feet, or more, of water, allowing fish and other species into a new food source. The forest, the river and all of the species have lived in balance and mutual reciprocity for millennia. Along the river there is the occasional village and this is a Shuar community and we stopped to talk to the people about our plans for the reserve and the cultural center. In the village we ate dried fish and boiled plantain, drank chicha, their traditional yucca beer and talked about our plans. The community liked the idea as it would provide some jobs, increase public knowledge of their plight and help protect their culture.
The access point is on the eastern boundary of the property and is a pick up and drop off point for the locals. There are people waiting to replace us as we got off the boat and piled our gear on the riverbank. The curious stares from the travelers tell me that they have not seen many white people in this area. There is no reason for me to worry, I have been in places like this before and recognize I am the entertainment. Quiet come to the forest as the boat rounds the corned and the motor sound is replaced by the sounds of the forest. I feel strangely at home although I have not spoken English for days and will not have the opportunity to speak it for another week, at least.